The Limerick Navigation

This page provides an overview of the Limerick Navigation, which linked the city of Limerick (and thus the estuary of the River Shannon) to Lough Derg and the rest of the Shannon Navigation upstream of Killaloe. Pages to be developed on aspects of the navigatiion will be linked to this page.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Ireland, here is a map produced by the Directors General of Inland Navigation in 1828 to show the, er, roads they managed. I have annotated it to show points of interest, including directions from Ireland to Liverpool and to the still-vexed Bermoothes.

DGIN map of Ireland

Here is a close-up from the Ordnance Survey map of ~1840. As the Shannon is a sensible river, it flows (roughly) from north to south, which is very convenient. Lough Derg is a large lake (by Irish standards), the largest on the Shannon; you can see part of it at the top of the map. Killaloe is a town just downriver of the lake. Limerick is a city at the head of the Shannon Estuary. The Limerick Navigation joined the two places.

The Limerick Navigation

The Limerick Navigation was in five sections. Starting from the upstream end, they were:

  • a canal bypassing rapids at Killaloe and some distance downstream. This canal had three locks
  • a river navigation section, on the Shannon itself, from the lowest lock on the Killaloe canal through O’Briensbridge to Errina
  • a second canal from Errina to Plassey, with six locks
  • a river navigation section from Plassey
  • a third canal leading to the canal harbour in Limerick. This canal had one lock about half way along; a second lock allowed boats out of the harbour on to the Abbey River and thus provided access to Limerick Dock and the Shannon Estuary. This canal bypassed rapids at Corbally.

The details shown below are taken from A New Oarsman’s Guide to the Rivers and Canals of Great Britain and Ireland edited by F E Prothero and W A Clark, published by George Philip & Son, London, for the Cruising Club in 1896. Prothero and Clark measured distances from the head of Lough Allen, the northernmost lake on the River Shannon. The extracts from OSI maps are by kind permission of Ordnance Survey Ireland.

The canal at Killaloe

At 127 miles from the head of Lough Allen is Ballyvally House (on the right). Prothero and Clark say:

Here the river leaves the lake with a strong stream. Keep near right bank, so as not to miss the entrance to the canal.

After three quarters of a mile, at Kincora (right):

Entrance to the lateral canal through a stop lock. A huge weir goes diagonally across the river, running down stream from left to right. The canal entrance on the right bank is nearly opposite the top end of the weir on the left. Below the weir, a long stretch of great cataracts.

The weir was removed after the construction of the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha and its associated weir at Parteen Villa, which raised the water level and flooded an area downstream of Killaloe. It killed off the Limerick Navigation, replacing it with a new route through the power station.

The mention of a stop lock is interesting. I presume that it did not survive the post-Ardnacrusha reconfiguration, but I would like to know more about it. Note that a new stop lock has been built in the last couple of years.

At 128⅛ miles from the head of Lough Allen is Killaloe itself, with a lock at the bridge:

Shannon View Hotel. Station across the bridge. Cathedral (Church of Ireland). Beware, when landing, of swarms of gamins. It is a very pretty spot, especially as seen from the bridge.

Killaloe Lock. At the Clare end of the bridge across the Shannon.

128⅞ Clarisford House (r)
129⅛ Moy’s Lock
129⅞ Cussaun Lock
130⅛ Dorgan’s Bridge. Here the canal enters the river.

The river section through O’Briensbridge

On this second section, Prothero and Clark list:

131⅜ Bannow Island
132½ Inishlosky Island
133¾ O’Brien’s Bridge
134⅞ Mona Lodge (l). On the right bank opposite the canal recommences, avoiding the falls of Castle Connell.

The canal from Errina to Plassey

The canal has straight sections joined by fairly smooth curves. Prothero and Clark give the details:

136⅜ Erinagh Lock
136⅝ Monaskeha Lock
136⅞ Cloonlara Lock
138    Newtown Lock
139¾ Gilloge Lock
140½ Plassy Lock. 150 yards below, at Plassy Bridge, the canal re-enters the river for a mile.

The next map shows two sections of the navigation, the one-mile river section and the final canal section.

Plassey to Limerick

Prothero and Clark say:

141⅝ Canal begins again on l bank below the Waterworks.

142⅛ Park Lock
142⅝ Limerick Lock. Locks out into the Abbey River branch of the Shannon.


Finally, they give some details about Limerick:

142¾ Baal’s Bridge
142⅞ New Bridge
143    Wellesley Bridge. Limerick. Cruise’s Hotel. One long handsome street, George Street; Castle; Cathedral.

At spring tides there is 19 feet of water at the Limerick quays (high water 4¼ hours after London Bridge). The river, which is very large here, widens out into an estuary a few miles further down. It is best seen by taking the steamer to Kilrush, a distance of 43 miles.

Pages will be added about sections and features of the Limerick Navigation. Here are some to be going on with:

The locks on the Limerick Navigation


The bridge at O’Briensbridge

The barge at Plassey

The floods of November 2009 provided an opportunity to see the sorts of water levels that the navigation might have had before Ardnacrusha was built.

The upper end

The lower end

The tidal section

Floods are not new to Limerick: here is an account of the floods of 1850.

There are some photos of parts of the old Limerick Navigation and the newer Parteen Villa Weir here. You can follow the Inland Waterways Protection Society’s walk along the Limerick Navigation (as much as is accessible) here, starting about two thirds of the way down the page, with a bonus visit to the Eglinton and Cong Canals.

And here is the cover page for a section showing why the Park Canal should not be restored to navigability.

17 responses to “The Limerick Navigation

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  5. hi I enjoyed the pages on the limerick to killaloe canal ; but a better map showing an over view of the old canal; and the new route through ardnacrusha power station , should be added ;as the whole route is complex. for people who don’t know the area/

  6. You’re quite right. The problem is that I have copyright approval only to use sections of the historic OSI maps, not the modern ones, so I have access to nothing that shows both the old and the new. I don’t (as far as I know) use materials in breach of copyright. But still, I’ll see what I can come up with. bjg

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  13. Can anyone Answer When did The Canal in Killaloe become the property of Waterways Ireland this I was informed of in August/September 2020 in writing as stated The Canal in Killaloe is the property of Waterways Ireland . They also charge a winter mooring but in 2011 Clare champion article at opening of new jetty no winter mooring charge .what a shame also to allow both sides become a dumping ground for Boats .any ideas thank you Sean

  14. You could say that it did so in 1839. That was the year in which the third set of Shannon Commissioners were set up, empowered to make various improvements to the Shannon. One of their powers was to take the entire river, from the tideway at Limerick (the junction between the Park Canal and the Abbey River) up to the river’s source.

    At that time most of the river was controlled by the Directors-General of Inland Navigation, who didn’t do much about it, but two sections were controlled by other bodies: the Middle Shannon, from Portumna to Athlone, which was controlled by the Grand Canal Company, and the Limerick Navigation, from the tideway to Killaloe, which was controlled by the Limerick Navigation Company. The Shannon Commissioners bought out both bodies and took over their waterways during the 1840s.

    The powers of the Shannon Commissioners were transferred, later in the decade, to the Board of Works/Commissioners of Public Works, who controlled them until (I think: I haven’t got my sources to hand) the 1980s or 1990s. Then government (at the prompting of Michael D Higgins) decided that waterways were to be considered as “heritage” rather than “engineering” and the waterways in Ireland were gradually transferred to Dúchas.

    Finally, it was decided that the waterways were about peace, not heritage and not engineering. Waterways Ireland was set up under the Good Friday Agreement and given responsibility for seven waterways: the Lower Bann and the Erne in Northern Ireland, the Shannon-Erne Waterway spanning the border, and the Shannon, Barrow, Grand and Royal canals in the republic.

    The management of the Shannon, including what used to be the Limerick Navigation (including the canal at Killaloe), is the responsibility of Waterways Ireland’s Western office, based in Scarriff. I can reassure you that there is absolutely no question or doubt about Waterways Ireland’s ownership and control of the waterway, but for any question about the details please contact WI direct: info on


  15. Stephen Thornton

    Thank you indeed for that information, which is very interesting.

    Can I do a follow up?:

    I think that you are absolutely correct that there can be no question but that Waterways Ireland was given administrative responsibility for the inland waterways system on foot of the Good Friday agreement.

    But surely the question of ownership is (at least in principle) distinct from that of administration?

    For that reason, I wonder if you can clarify slightly some of the detail in your response? Specifically, if the Shannon Commissioners acquired ownership of the system during the 1840’s and that ownership was transferred to the Board of Works/Commissioners of Public Works shortly thereafter, what body was empowered to effect that transfer?

    And if ownership (as distinct from administrative authority) was transferred in turn to Waterways Ireland when it was established in 1999, what body authorised that transfer?

    As I hope will be clear from this, I am trying to elicit the role of the state in these transfers and the current position of the state in relation to the question of ownership.

    I do so because the question of the relationship between citizens and the state is quite different to that which may operate between citizens and any institutional body, public or private.

    Any light that you can shed on this would be much appreciated.

  16. There is a limit to the amount of foraging through my notes and sources that I am prepared to do at the moment, but I can tell you that the Shannon Commisssioners bought the Limerick Navigation from the Limerick Navigation Company and paid money (just over £12000) for it. The Shannon Commissioners became the owners.

    You might like to look at which has the Shannon Navigation Acts 1839 and 1990 (ignore the 1885 act, which is about piers on the estuary). You should also be able to find most of the annual reports of the Board/Commissioners of (Public) Works on

    The various 20th century rearrangements (OPW to Duchas to WI) are beyond my ken, which ends at around 1860.


  17. Many thanks.

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